It isn't always the case, but sometimes a technological solution can provide just that -- solutions.

Last January, the California Department of Justice went online with CAL/GANG, an Internet-linked software package that has given law enforcement agencies throughout the state a chance to compile important data on violent criminal gangs in a usable form.

"This system is working incredibly wonderfully," gushed Don Mace, investigator in charge of CAL/GANG for the California Department of Justice (DOJ). "The biggest problem we have had is in underestimating how well it would work, how much it would help and how quickly local law enforcement would embrace the system. We went from 366 end-users on the first day to over 1,600 now, and growing every day. It helps solve cases -- what more can you ask?"

In less than 12 months, CAL/GANG has helped law enforcement officials throughout the state stamp "case solved" on a significant number of files.

Perhaps the most visible of these was the gang rape in May of three juvenile girls by 14 male gang members. The crime happened in a Fresno hotel, where the girls were lured into a room by a couple of underaged suspects, and were then attacked by the others -- all members of the Mongolian Boys Society, one of many Asian gangs that have sprung up throughout California. In this case, it is possible the criminals would not have faced justice without CAL/GANG; certainly the process would have been longer, more arduous and time-consuming without

the database.

"We had one word to go on -- Bolo. It was a name one of the [victims] remembered being used in the room," said Jim Kerns, deputy sheriff in charge of the CAL/GANG node in Fresno. "We didn't know whether it was a first name, a last name or a moniker. Maybe it had no meaning at all. Turns out that Bolo was one of the gang member's street names. That information turned up in CAL/GANG and gave us his real name. From there we went to work and now every one of those guys has pled and will be going to prison for 22 to 24 years."

All over the state, cops are reporting successes from CAL/GANG. South of Fresno, in Kern County, the system provided the information necessary to conclusively refute a murder suspect's alibi.

"Members of our gang-suppression unit were able to refute an alibi of a homicide suspect simply by retrieving a 3-year-old field interview card from CAL/GANG," said Carl Sparks, sheriff of Kern County, in a letter thanking Gov. Pete Wilson for funding the system. "The application is extremely vital in our day-to-day work and instrumental in our effort to suppress street-gang criminal activity."

CAL/GANG, known as GangNet outside California, is a sophisticated relational database developed by Orion Scientific Systems Inc. of Irvine, Calif. It's a relational database that holds and categorizes everything from nicknames to tattoos on suspected or known gang members. It was designed based on the idea that gangs of every type survive and prosper by creating internal links and tiers of power. CAL/GANG allows officers to use this information to track, analyze and retrieve data collected about gangs, including individual gang members' photos and addresses, the places they hang out or live, known associates, even the cars they drive. CAL/GANG puts all this fragmented information together, allowing an investigating officer to quickly link disparate information. The system has been developed so that it can be accessed quickly from an agency's offices or even through a laptop computer in the field.

In fact, all an officer needs is a computer, a Web browser and a password.

"Speed and ease of use were our main goals in development of CAL/GANG," said Tom Gates, a former